MSPs have rejected a proposal to give women free sanitary products.

By a majority decision, Holyrood’s cross-party local government committee refused to endorse a Bill put forward by Labour MSP Monica Lennon.

The legislation would have put a duty on the Scottish Government to ensure free period products are available on a universal basis.

However the committee, despite unanimously supporting the aim of ending period poverty, said the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill was flawed.

In particular, it said there was a lack of clarity on costs and that “significant work” would be required by Ministers to devise and develop a universal scheme.

Ms Lennon’s Bill estimated it would cost around £10m a year, but the Scottish Government said a high uptake could cost £24m.

SNP Ministers last month refused to back the legislation because of the issue, and said the Government had already taken targeted action to address period poverty.

Free period products are available in secondary and primary schools across Scotland and in all 19 universities and 26 colleges, helping up to 400,000 students.

Although Green MSP Andy Wightman and Labour’s Sarah Boyack backed the Bill, they were outvoted by the SNP and Tory MSPs on the committee.

Urging a rethink before the Bill goes to a Holyrood vote later this month, Ms Lennon said: “It will be a bitter blow to everyone who has campaigned for this legislation to see SNP and Tory MSPs reject the principles of a Bill that will end period poverty.

“The Committee accepted many women and girls are still being referred to foodbanks for essential period products, despite the Scottish Government’s welcome initiatives to support period dignity in schools, colleges and universities and other community venues. My Bill would build on existing schemes, close these gaps and deliver period dignity for all by protecting the right to access period products in law. The world is watching, and evidence from women’s and LGBT organisations, anti-poverty charities and trade unions makes the case for this legislation. This is not the time to be timid and MSPs should listen carefully to campaigners and the evidence and back the Bill later this month.”

Carolyn Fox-McKay of Girlguiding Scotland said: “We’re extremely disappointed to learn that the Local Government and Communities Committee have decided not to support the Free Period Products Bill.

“Girlguiding Scotland has long been a campaigner to end period poverty and the stigma surrounding periods. Period products aren’t a luxury, they’re an essential product and no-one should miss out on opportunities, face isolation or embarrassment simply because they can’t afford them.

“Establishing a universal scheme to ensure free period products are easily available to everyone who needs them will not only create economic benefits to individuals and families, but will also support girls and young women’s participation in education and extracurricular activities, and help to end the stigma around periods.

“Our research shows strong support for a universal scheme, with 89% of our members surveyed agreeing that free period products would help make sure girls and young women don’t miss out on school or college.

“To create a truly gender equal future we need action now. Creating a legal right to access period products will ensure the progress already made in this area is built upon and that future governments cannot undo the welcome work that has already been undertaken. We urge MSPs to listen to the voices of girls and women and support this Bill as it comes before Parliament.”

SNP Committee Convener James Dornan MSP said: “A difficulty in affording and accessing period products affects people across Scotland every day, and the Committee is aware of the need to reduce stigma around menstruation.

“We applaud Monica Lennon for all her efforts in bringing this Bill before the Scottish Parliament and helping to raise awareness of these issues.

“The Committee also commends the work undertaken by local authorities, the third sector, and grassroots groups to promote and deliver existing schemes and welcomes the positive response to the Government’s targeted provision of free products.

“However, the Committee has concerns about the Bill as drafted, including a lack of clarity over how much a universal scheme would cost, what a scheme would look like and the work required by Ministers to implement it.

“This is clearly a serious and important issue and the Scottish Government should ensure that current schemes are accessible to everyone who needs them. But for the majority of the Committee it is clear that the legislation before us is not the answer.”